Australia is taking the next step toward building a coalition of “like-minded” democracies pushing back against what they view as Beijing’s increasing expansionism in the Indo-Pacific — even as the list of trade reprisals against it grows.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo Tuesday for crucial defense talks that come just weeks after foreign ministers of the Quad alliance, which also includes the U.S. and India, met in the Japanese capital.
Morrison and Suga are scheduled to sign a reciprocal security access agreement that has been under negotiation for six years, the Australian Financial Review reported Nov. 10, without citing sources. The pact would codify rules for hosting visiting troops to each other’s country for training and operations, it said.
“A closer security arrangement is on the cards in Tokyo in a bid to mitigate the risks of a more adventurous China,” said John Blaxland, a former intelligence officer who’s now a professor at the Australian National University. “There is a clear overlap of interests when it comes to managing maritime security, but Australia will still be mindful it may be seen as leading attempts to gang up against Beijing.”
Morrison told reporters last week that he viewed the Quad as “very important.” Underscoring the gravity of the trip, he will visit Suga in person even though pandemic protocols mean he will need to self-isolate for two weeks on his return.
The Chinese government will view the meeting with “cautious eyes and slight nervousness,” said Yoshikazu Kato, an adjunct professor at the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong. The renewed impetus of the Quad since 2017, when it was revived in a bid to create a buffer against Beijing, is a symbol that democracies are willing to become “unprecedentedly united in their stance to contain China — it’s of the utmost concern” to Beijing, he said.
In recent years, Australia has ramped up diplomatic lobbying to strengthen alliances with other democracies, a strategy that paid off earlier this month when it was invited for the first time by India to participate in the Malabar naval exercises along with other Quad members.